Posts tagged mountains

Ice Cream Towers

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Another day, another stunning national park.  This time the Ubaye Valley in the Hautes Alpes of Provence.  We discovered a sparkling blue alpine lake, Lac de Serre-Poncon, bordered by a series of stark peaks. As we rounded a corner we suddenly spotted pillars of sand in the distance. As we got closer we realised that each pillar had a large rock perched on top, rather like an ice cream cone topped with a huge smartie, and we stopped to take a closer look.  Erosion wears away the sandy soil on the hillside and mineral deposits from alternating rain and sun harden the pillars until all that is left is a tower of solidified sand holding a very heavy rock.

Over the next few days the weather turned rather cold, (perhaps because we were in the mountains) and we dared not venture outside for too long.  We spent most of these days enjoying the views from the van as we traversed one pass after another and kept warm with tasty quiches from the local boulangeries.

One morning we woke to snow-dusted trees and mountains which prompted us to hasten off to the coast in search of more sun and warmth.

Les Montagnes

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Entering France from Italy we were struck by the difference in roads and traffic.  The roads in France are well maintained, the traffic behaves itself and there is almost no overtaking on the bends!!  We wanted to spend some more time in the mountains away from the coast and discovered an incredible area in the Haute Alpes of Provence.  At first the scenery was mediterranean, with tumbling vegetation dropping down into river gorges.  Soon it began to turn more mountainous, with great purple lumps of rock towering above us, occasionally dotted with autumnal coloured trees.  The alpine blue rivers clash dramatically with the purple rockbeds.  We spent the night in a sweet little riverside town, St Saveur-sur-Tinee at the local picnic area.

The next day we drove into the Parc National du Mercantour. Once again dogs are prohibited (even on leads) so Odie was resigned to yapping his head off in the car.  The route we chose to Barcelonnette took us through what they claim is Europe’s highest pass, the Col de la Bonette at 1824m.  I cannot confirm the accuracy of this (I would have thought Grossglockner was higher) but the beauty of the area is in no such doubt.  Snow-sprinkled mountains surrounded us as eagles soared above and the road meandered off into infinity over a series of hair pin bends.  We continued down the other side into Barcelonnette, a French skiing area where we stopped for the night amongst fallen oak leaves.

Death to Mozzies

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Pollino National Park is Italy’s largest park and it straddles Basilicata and Calabria.  The park has rocky peaks, rolling green hills and a beautiful aquamarine lake.  It does not seem to be used by visitors all that much, we found a walking trail and embarked on what I was hoping would be a long hike.  After bundu bashing through some rather thick vegetation we opted for a stroll along the road.  Our exercise for the day done, we made a short hop to the Tyrrhenian coast.  The almost deserted holiday town of Praia a Mare has a long black pebbled beach.  It’s most famous attraction is the Isola di Dino, an island that sits just off the shore.

As we were setting ourselves up in the campsite we were surrounded by a cloud of mosquitoes.  I killed eight immediately and yet more and more arrived. What followed was a very tribal looking dance as we spun around and around flapping our arms in all directions to try and swat the annoying little beasts!

Monti Sibillini

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After the hustle and bustle of touristy towns, we escaped to Monti Sibillini and its eerie National Park, which straddles the Le Marche and Umbrian region of Italy. We stayed in a grassy (and free) area di sosta close to the town of Castleluccio, surrounded by mountains.

Handgliders and paragliders make good use of the flat basin, perfect for easy landings. Some of the more adventurous ones could even be seen disappearing in and out of clouds that tumble down the sides of the mountains.

The area is perfect for hiking and mountain biking; we did both whilst we were there. Apparently, there are numerous wild animals and plants to be spotted, but the wildest thing we saw was a bleary eyed shepherd and five sheepdogs who thought that Odie looked like a good appetiser.

Kehlstein

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Kehlstein sits at the top of a high mountain, built as a retreat for Hitler just before the outbreak of the second world war. We were very interested in the history of the place having recently watched the final episode of the TV series “Band of Brothers” in which the Allies capture Kehlstein, calling it “The final prize”.

The road to Kehlstein is restricted to official tour buses. The bus ride costs €15.50 return per person, including a ride in the elevator. We opted instead to walk to the summit, a climb of 850m over several kilometres of steep roads. As we walked we discussed how strange it felt to be on a road reserved exclusively for the top nazi leaders during the war.

The walk took us two and a half hours and was well worth the effort as beautiful forests slowly gave way to incredible views of the surrounding villages. It’s easy to see why Hitler favoured Kehlstein with its magnificent vistas.

Any sense of history we were feeling was quickly shattered when we finally reached the top. The building has been turned into a large restaurant and souvenir shop. A handful of photos on a wall, and a short documentary looping on a small TV are all that is depicted about Kehlstein’s past.

I was browsing through the postcards when a lady next to me picked out a specimen that highlighted perfectly just how disappointingly commercialised the trip has become. It was a picture of the bus going up the road with “bus of the year 2009” written across the bottom.

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